Monday, July 03, 2006

a celebration of unassuming achievement

In the traditions of the Plains aborigines of America, white signifies Winter, the North, old age, and wisdom. In the Tour de France it signifies, youth and athletic prowess (and I suppose Spring, and the East). That's because the best young rider gets to wear a white jersey.

At the end of the first stage of this year's TdF Friesian 25-year old Joost Posthuma was awarded this maillot blanc. There are some good photos of Joost on his official website. This one comes from the site maintained by Rabobank, the team that sponsors him:

Joost is appealingly modest about his accomplishment. He writes: "Wat een proloog. Echt geweldig. Het ging allemaal buiten verwachting. Zeker het eerste stuk reed ik super lekker. Het eerste succes is binnen Ik heb de witte trui, die pakken ze me niet meer af. Ik ga wel zien hoe lang ik hem ga houden. Ik ga me nu laten masseren. Groeten, Joost."

Which translates, very roughly, as: "What a prologue. Really terrible. It was much worse than I expected. I did the first section very well, but after that... All the same, in the first stage I won the white jersey. There are lots of good young riders so, we'll see whether I get to keep it very long. [It's Sunday so] I'm off to church now. Groeten, Joost"

And, in fact, he lost the jersey yesterday and is now in second place in the young riders competition (25th in overall classification out of 120, which is not bad at all). He lost to a Frenchman with an exceedingly French name: Benoít Vaugrenard, who rides for an exceedingly French team, Francaise des Jeux.

Update: Joost held his position in today's race. He's still second in the White Jersey competition (by 9 seconds) and -- 23rd in the general classification (yellow jersey competition)-- he's the highest-placed Rabobank rider and highest-placed Netherlander.

The modesty of Joost about his success reminds me of other modest greats. Here are a few:

1. Zizou

As the Guardian says, it was he who enabled France to beat Brazil the other day (Zidane conjures up more magic): "Zinedine Zidane turned the clock back to destroy Brazil once more with a magic performance. Zidane, the son of Algerian immigrants, the child of the Marseille banlieue come good, the man whose humility made him the most introverted kind of hero imaginable, he didn't just unite football fans. He united France.

Wikipedia adds: "Zidane is one of the football icons of his generation and is known to be modest, quiet and self-admittedly shy."

2. Floyd Landis.

There's a profile of Landis in the Sunday Style Section of the Washington Post this week (Breaking Away). It says: "Early on, Floyd Landis Learned the Last Shall Be First. In the eyes of the Mennonites -- a community defined by its uncompromising work ethic -- the servant shall be exalted in time. Cyclist Floyd Landis, who has made a career out of servanthood, believes that his time has come. In fact, the onetime Mennonite has the date and place for his reward precisely fixed: the afternoon of July 23, when he hopes to roll into Paris as the winner of the Tour de France."

In fact Floyd might have had the leader's jersey -- the Maillot Jaune of the overall race leader -- after the first day of racing but for a cut in the tire of his bike. Says "Floyd Landis, who began his prologue six seconds too late on Saturday, blames the delay on a cut in his tire. The rider, who is now one of the top favorites for the overall victory, explained that his tire needed replacing due to that cut. 'I did lose my concentration. Had I known it was so close to the start, I wouldn't have taken the risk of replacing the tire.' Landis limited the damage in the 7.1km prologue however, finishing ninth at nine seconds from winner Thor Hushovd." After three days of racing, Landis is currently 9th in the overall classification, an excellent position at this point in the racing.

3. Deioces, king of the Medes.

Herodotus writes that Deioces, was chosen king of the Medes through his reputation as an honest and upright judge. The Medes had rebelled against their Assyrian masters, but having achieved independence did not set up a central authority and lawlessness resulted. Using what would later be seen as a Machiavellian strategy, Deioces created a Median state. Though Heodotus regrets the loss of self-rule, he rightly accords praise for Deioces' peaceful route to power. Here's the story as Herodotus tells it:
When all were autonomous throughout the mainland, they devolved back to tyrannies this way: a man among the Medes proved wise, whose name was Deioces, and he was the son of Phraortes. That Deioces fell in love with tyranny and acted like this: the Medes having their settlements in villages, he, being in his own, both previously was esteemed and even somewhat more eagerly applied himself to and practiced justice; and that, too, although there was lawlessness throughout all the Median land, he did, since he knew that to the just the unjust is an enemy. So the Medes, seeing his manners, chose him as their judge. He, then, inasmuch as he was wooing rule, was straight and just, and as a result, doing that, he had no little praise from his fellow citizens so that those in all the other villages learned by inquiry that Deioces was the only man to judge in accordance with what’s correct, and, although previously they fell in with unjust decisions, then, after they had heard of him, they gladly went constantly to Deioces, on their own indeed, to receive judgement, and finally they entrusted themselves to no other. When the group that went constantly on each and every occasion grew larger, inasmuch as they learned by inquiry that their lawsuits came out in accordance with what was, Deioces, come to the knowledge that everything was referred to himself, as he was unwilling to sit down any longer right where previously he had sat publicly and judged, so he said he would not judge any longer, since it was not profitable for him, careless of his own, to judge for his neighbors throughout the day. Accordingly, there being seizure and lawlessness still far more throughout the villages than was before, the Medes collected in the same place and deliberated with themselves; they said about the present situation (and, as I think, the friends of Deioces said it most), “Because, if we keep our present manner, indeed we are unable to be settled in our country, come let us set over ourselves a king, and thus our country will have good laws and we ourselves will turn to work and not be made to migrate by lawlessness.” Saying nearly that, they persuaded themselves to be a monarchy. At once, from when they were putting forward whom they should set themselves as king, Deioces was prevalent, since by every man he was both put forward and praised, until they consented that he should be king.

4. Spinoza

Benedict de Spinoza belongs in this group because he was a pacifist who promoted a non-dogmatic, non-demominational approach to religion at a time when the sectarian violence was fierce and men could be put to death for non-conforming beliefs. He also was a modest man who, a recent biographer says, lost his faith but "remained outwardly observant until the death of his father in deference to the Jewish value of 'shalom bayis,' peace within the family." Learning this, she says, "The thought occurred to me that [Spinoza] must have been a lovable man."

No comments: